We are in the midst of an era of a great music. And while David Byrne may be correct to question whether the internet will sap the creativity of the art, it has also enabled immensely gifted songwriters and musicians to share their work. Among this emerging wave of talent is 22-year old Mackenzie Scott – a.k.a. TORRES.
The Macon, Georgia native and former Nashville resident released her debut, self-titled LP in January of this year. Heart-wrenching, gritty, and honest, the album tells stories of sorrow, betrayal, and isolation, some of which touch upon Scott’s own personal experiences. On “Moon & Back”, she sings about a mother writing to the child she gave up at birth. On “Honey”, she describes the feelings of being in a shackled relationship. While such issues can be difficult to capture, the melodies and Scott’s sincere vocals bring to life her storytelling.
Scott’s talent and songwriting have resulted in a loyal following of fans and artists alike, among them Sharon Van Etten. Her abilities, however, go beyond the lyrics; watching her live gives one an appreciation of her immense talent as a gifted guitar player and live performer. She plays with a ferocity, intensity, and skill level comparable to some of the musicians of the day. She is an emerging talent and a name to remember.
During our conversation, we talk about the importance of family, the things she learned about herself over the past year, and, of course, we did Feedback.
You mentioned in previous interviews that Torres is a family name. Can you expand on that?
I took TORRES as my stage moniker in honor of my grandfather. It was his last name.
You have stated that you consider yourself to be more of a storyteller and songwriter. When did you start writing and what was the first thing you wrote?
I think the first poem I wrote was actually about September 11th and the Twin Towers. It was a morbid but patriotic poem, and I’ve always been kind of a morbid person. But honestly, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.
You would have been about 10 years old when you wrote it?
Yeah, I was 9 or 10. And also around that time, I was writing a lot of epitaphs. My poetry writing started around that time, and I would carry around a small notebook that I would write epitaphs in. I would write epitaphs for people, characters I created. Looking back, it was kind of creepy.
Do you still have the notebook?
I probably could find it if I looked around my parents’ house in Georgia.
So writing poetry and epitaphs were your “gateways” into short-story writing. When did that begin?
I started writing short stories in middle school, when I was 12 or 13. I’ve written a few, but I’m mostly focused on poetry.
Have any of your songs evolved from your poetry?
The last song on the record, “Waterfall”, did start off as a poem that I wrote in my freshman year of college. I came back to it a year-and-half, two years later and made it into the song that it is now. However, it did start off as a straight up poem.
Have you considered publishing your work?
I have thought about it, but to do that I would need to stop turning my poems into songs. I need to have my poetry be just that. I still write a lot of poems and have written hundreds. I’ve put some of my poetry on my Tumblr site for people to read, but there are many more that I have not shared. Some of them aren’t very good, and they’ll never see the light of day!
You’ve just moved to Brooklyn. Have you found that spot or quiet place that inspires you to write?
I’m still searching for that place of inspiration. I’ve been on the road on-and-off since I’ve moved here, so every time I return to Brooklyn I’m just zapped, and all I want to do is lay on my couch and watch Netflix. I do want to write and I like being creative and inspired, but when I get back from the road I’m usually absolutely exhausted. And I don’t jump write back into writing as quickly as I wish. I tend to take a lot of down time, not doing anything. Literally, I let my brain scramble for a few days. That being said, I haven’t had much time to write since I’ve moved here. I have a bit of break right now, so I guess now would be as good as any time to get back at it.
Concerning the photos for the album cover and the song “Honey”, what were the messages you were trying to convey and whose concepts were they?
The shower photo for “Honey” was the idea of my photographer friend, Bekah Cope, who lives in Nashville. We actually did those in my neighbor Marshall’s shower. She knows me, so she was going for something that would be provocative – not in a sexual way, but in a “what’s up, here I am, this is my debut album” vibe.
She was spot on with the idea. She wanted me in the shower with water pouring all over me. It was kind of a decision she made on the whim.
It was also one of the first shoots that I had ever done, and it was at a time that I was really uncomfortable in front of the camera. I actually ended up downing a quarter of a bottle of Four Roses before she took the pictures.
The album cover, though, was my idea. I really just wanted people to look at it.
There wasn’t a message that you were trying to convey with it? In keeping with the themes of the album, my impression was one of innocence and innocence lost, vulnerability, and reflection.
I’m always interested in hearing people’s thoughts on the album cover.
But for me, I like the idea of ambiguity and making people question something. My idea of having someone kiss me on the cheek was, on the one hand, there to provoke, to have people ask, “Who is kissing her?” and “Whose face is that?” There’s a very select group of people who know who it is and it’s not for the world to know, and I love that.
My other thought was based on the concept of Judas’ kiss, the betrayal of Jesus. It’s such a provocative biblical story for me, and I thought a lot of the themes in the album were tied together by betrayal or themes that touch on betrayal.
How personal were the songs on the album, in particular “Moon & Back”, which personally resonates with me?
It was very personal. It doesn’t mean that the narrator is always me. It might be someone that I am very close to or someone I know.
On “Moon & Back”, that was one of the songs on the record that I wrote from someone else’s perspective. I was adopted at birth, and I wrote that song from what I imagine to be my birth mother’s perspective.
On the subject of family, you’ve talked a lot about how your family’s gift of the Gibson helped define your music. Could you take me back to that Christmas Day when you opened your present.
I was very surprised. I had my eye on that guitar for a year or two. I was as surprised as anyone would be in getting their guitar of their dreams.
The way my parents set it up had a lot to do with it. They wrapped it that Christmas morning and put in the corner. My mom made it out to my dad, so that I wouldn’t be suspecting of this large object looming in the corner. When it came time for him to open the gift, they pushed it my way. I was like, “What? What is this?” I opened it and I just cried.
The gift was from my whole family – a collective gift. They all pooled in money for this one awesome gift.
So was it a TORRES musical Christmas?
Yes! I played it all day!
How much of an influence have your parents been in fostering your writing and music?
They’ve always been very supportive. That’s the biggest thing I could say, as they’ve always encouraged me to write and to be musical. They wanted to make sure that I was committed to making this a career – a career worth pursuing. So, they told me to prove that this is what I wanted to do. They never pushed me in one direction or another – prove to us that you want to do this, make your own way and we’ll support you. And they have.
I went to Belmont in Nashville, and that was the college of my choice. Their deal was that I would get a degree and they’d let me go where I wanted to go and pursue the degree I wanted. I pursued songwriting and English lit, and they supported me throughout. I could not be anymore thankful.
Have your parents seen you perform?
Yeah, they have. They try to make it out to as many shows as they can. I’ve played in Atlanta a couple of times, and they made it up both times.
What about the coffee shop shows in Nashville?
Yeah, they did. They made it up several times, and a couple of times they surprised me. They drove up from Georgia and showed up right before my set. It was always encouraging to see them when all I was getting were coffee shop gigs.
While you still consider yourself a songwriter, watching you perform live you’re a musician. Your skills with the guitar are terrific. How did you transform from a songwriter to a musician/performer?
Thank you. I hope I’m getting better.
It all kind of crept up on me. I’m still not as proficient as I would like to be as a guitar player, and I don’t think I will ever will be.
When starting out, the guitar and the singing were the means to get my writing out there. That’s why I always consider myself a writer. The music was a vehicle for my writing and for me to express my writing. So, while I would still consider myself a songwriter, I’m equal parts songwriter and musician now.
There was a time where I didn’t care about being a proficient instrumentalist, but I’ve taken an extreme interest in the guitar over the years. I think it was the electric guitar that did it for me when I transitioned from the acoustic to the electric. All of a sudden, I became fascinated by the instrument. I’m not really sure what happened, but there was definitely a shift. Now, I’m trying everyday to become a better guitar player. I hope that one day that people will consider me a great guitarist.
Seems like your parents unleashed another side of you – guitar goddess!
When touring, do you find you have to bring a different element to your live shows?
Absolutely. Playing live is my favorite thing. I like how you can turn everything up when you play live. When talking to people, they often remark that they are surprised how loud and grungy the live show is. With the guitar and drums, everything gets a bit more amplified, which is what I love.
I really don’t see the point of having a live show if you’re not willing to throw your entire self into it and you’re not going to drain yourself clean. I want to see a performer drain herself dry in front of a live audience, and that’s what I do. It’s a really vulnerable process and cathartic; it’s such a release.
Overall, I think I am more unafraid; I can now go into something with an extreme amount of confidence. I’ve matured as a performer, where now I can confidently say, ‘Hey, let’s go blow some faces off!’
You head to Europe at the end of October for a few weeks. Will you be performing solo or with the band?
Chris DePorter (percussion) and Chris Keyes (bass and keyboard) will be accompanying me for the middle part of the tour – for about a week. I’ll be starting and ending the tour solo. I start in the UK and go to Greece, Germany, and Spain.
Are the European dates the last for you this year?
Possibly, but I’m not sure. I never really know. I might have some US dates in December, but I’m not sure right now.
You’ve been touring non-stop since the album was released earlier in the year. Are there any special moments that stick out?
It all seems to blend together, but it has been an awesome experience. On this last tour, I opened for Okkervil River on the east coast. On the last night with them, we were in Little Rock and went to a billiards bar. We played pool, got drunk, and had a really good time. That was cool.
On the west coast tour when I played with Lady Lamb the Beekeeper earlier this year – and she’s amazing – we were traveling in my parents’ Ford Excursion. We were actually headed to the west coast and we broke down somewhere in the middle of Texas – Fort Stockton, Texas – in the dead of summer. We were stranded for a few hours getting our AC fixed.
In looking back on the past year in producing the album and touring extensively, are there any lessons that you have learned that you could apply when you record your next album and for future tours?
I’ve become a lot more confident as a performer and musician. Just in the past six months, I feel like a different performer. I still feel like the same songwriter, so in that sense going into the next album the writing will follow the same trajectory and be very similar.
However, in terms of performance, I think it’ll all be turned up a bit. Playing shows with a band and learning how to be in sync with them on stage have really given me a lot of ideas for the next album.
Overall, I think I am more unafraid; I can now go into something with an extreme amount of confidence. I’ve matured as a performer, where now I can confidently say, “Hey, let’s go blow some faces off!”
I wasn’t like that a few months ago. It’s really been that quick of a change because I had to. I threw myself out there and just started touring. I feel like a different musician, artist now, but in a good way. Making the next record, I expect it to reflect my experiences and growth of the past year and be more of a punch in the gut.
I know you’re still writing, but when can we anticipate the next album?
Yeah, I’m still writing and there’s a lot to do. I can’t say for sure, but I think it will be late next year, some time in 2014 I hope.
You re-tweeted a message about women and music, but it was more important for women to be part of the mainstream conversation. I thought it was an interesting statement and message to convey.
I wanted to poke fun at the state of the industry today, and by that I mean there are always panels about women in music and women in rock. It’s like a genre in itself according to so many different people, but I think it’s so laughable. When was the last time you saw a panel that said “men in rock”? You just don’t see that. I poke fun at this issue a lot.
I also get a lot of questions like, “What are the disadvantages of being a woman who plays guitar and plays rock in 2013?” My male peers aren’t getting those kinds of questions, so why am I?
Speaking of questions, let’s get to know Mackenzie Scott away from the music. First question, do you have a pre-show ritual or an extensive rider?
Pre-show ritual is whiskey. I like it all, basically whatever I can get my hands on at the venue. But I really like George Dickel.
What about scotch?
I love scotch. I really like Glenlivet 12 and Glenlivet 18. I also like Macallan and Glenfiddich. I like the sweeter ones. I’m not a fan of the smokier scotches.
I know you’re only 22, but do you have a bucket list?
I have started fulfilling it. I started by skydiving a couple of years ago. I had a Groupon for Skydive Alabama, and I drove by myself from Nashville and went skydiving. I think it was 10,000 feet. It was awesome, but I think it would be an amazing thing to do without someone on your back. Then again, I don’t trust myself enough and I would probably feel safer with another person.
And since you’re asking me, the other thing I think I would like to do is own an airplane. My dad has his pilot’s license, and he’s taught me over the years how to fly small aircraft. So I would like to initially get my pilot’s license and eventually have my own little plane.
I really love flying and being in the air. Ironically, I am afraid of heights — like really afraid of heights.
So you’ve been skydiving and would do it again and you would like to own a plane, but you’re afraid of heights?
I don’t know what it is, but I really love the adrenalin rush. I think I have a death wish.
Do you have a favorite animal?
I love animals so much. There are too many to name, so I’ll give you a top 3.
I’m going to go with elephants, cats, horses, and I’ll throw in a bonus – lion.
Would that be on your bucket list – to see elephants and lions in their natural habitat?
Absolutely! I would very much like to bond with lions and elephants in their natural habitat. I see videos of people who have befriended lions, tigers, and all sorts of wildlife, and they are cuddling and bonding with them, sharing connections. It makes me jealous.
You do have a death wish!
I guess I do! But I would just love to bond with a wild animal just once.
Dead or alive – with whom would you like to collaborate?
I’ll give you one dead and one alive. Dead – Johnny Cash. Alive – St. Vincent.
Do you have any pick-me uppers?
Coffee, hamburgers, and a marathon of “Law in Order SUV”.
How do you like your hamburger?
Medium with ketchup, mustard, and onion.
Who is your favorite Muppet or Sesame St. character?
Hmm… I’ll have to think about that one. I’ll go with Cookie Monster
One word to describe yourself
This makes me nervous. I’ll go with loyal.
Do you have any pet peeves?
A lot. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, “I’m too old for this. I’m too old for that.” Even if they are really old, I want to wring their neck and say, “You’re alive. Enjoy it!”
My go-to example when people say that is George Bush, Sr., who went skydiving on his 80th birthday. It just proves that you’re never too old to do anything.
And another one is grammatical errors. I can’t stand them. The worst is when people send you text messages with the incorrect spelling of “your” and “you’re”. That grinds my gears.
Games you played on the road with the band?
We played this game, “Guess Who?” One person picks an individual, and the rest ask questions to figure out who it is.
For example, I chose Helena Bonham Carter, and the guys would ask if the person is dead or alive, whether they are a man or a woman, and then more detailed questions until you arrive at the answer. It was a good way to pass the time while driving.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I don’t feel guilty about things I like. Well, maybe the most deplorable thing is that I watch “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. I don’t have cable here, but when I go home to Georgia I find myself watching that show. I don’t really feel too bad about it, but I guess it is kind of disgusting.
I agree with your last remark. But anyway, do you have any vices?
I’m a big procrastinator. I’m always late. However, I don’t have anything that I get too worked over about. I’ve made it through college and got my degree. I think my vices during this time were a lot worse.
Now, I’m just trying to be a better person, a better adult.
All photographs of Mackenzie Scott taken from her main site and Flip. Artist Management.
REMAINING TOUR DATES FOR 2013
Oct. 29 – London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire (w/ Daughter)
Nov. 1 & 2 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – London Calling Festival 2013
Nov. 4 – Ghent, Belgium – Café Video
Nov. 5 – Hamburg, Germany – Knust
Nov. 6 – Berlin, Germany – Lido
Nov. 8 – Munich, Germany – Feierwerk/Hansa 39
Nov. 9 – Frankfurt, Germany – Zoom
Nov. 10 – Cologne, Germany – Gebäude 9
Nov. 13 – London, UK – The Borderline
Nov. 14 – Brighton, UK – The Green Door Stop
Nov. 16 – Athens, Greece – Six D.o.g.s
Nov. 18 – Dublin, Ireland – The Sugar Club
Nov. 19 – Madrid, Spain – Voces Femeninas 2013
Nov. 21 – Ourense, Spain – Voces Femeninas 2013
Nov. 23 – Vigo, Spain – Voces Femeninas 2013
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